5 Fears Writers Have in Common and 5 Steps to Move Past Them
"No one starts a creative endeavor without a certain amount of fear; the key is to learn how to keep free-floating fears from paralyzing you before you've begun." — Twyla Tharp, Award-Winning Contemporary Dance Choreographer
Fear. It gets in our way.
I'm not talking about BIG SCARY monster fears, like finding yourself on the run from a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a Jurassic Park-style experience.
No, I'm talking about those everyday fears that hold us back. You know the ones. The self-doubt. The "what if it's not any good" thoughts.
The ones that keep us from pursuing our dreams.
I recently read Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life and I want to share some of the inspiration from it with you.
If you’re not familiar with Twyla Tharp, she has choreographed more than 125 dances, five Hollywood movies, directed and choreographed two Broadway shows, and received numerous awards, including a Tony and two Emmys.
The Creative Habit opens with a description of an empty white room. It's a Manhattan dance studio with a wall of eight-foot-high mirrors. It's five weeks before opening night in Los Angeles, where her dance troupe will perform in front of 1,200 people a night for eight nights.
At the moment, she has no idea about Act 2. She doesn't know what music she'll use, which dancers, what type of dance. She doesn't know the costumes or lighting. She needs a concept before she can start working on it with the dancers.
Five weeks to put together a world-class dance performance.
I think you can agree that most of us don't live with that kind of pressure. Our concerns about launching or running a freelance writing business won't make front-page news with anyone but ourselves.
Yet, we share similar fears.
Ms. Tharp lists her five big fears:
- People will laugh at me
- Someone has done it before
- I have nothing to say
- I will upset someone I love
- Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind
I think we can ALL relate to those genuine fears. I don't know about you, but knowing that international superstars have the same fears I do motivates me. I’m not the first to feel “this” way. And if they can overcome those fears on the public stage, I can do it in my life too. (And so can you!)
Her book goes on to talk about developing habits. Really, the discipline of doing the same thing every day. She hits the gym for two hours every morning with her trainer. Later, she'll spend two hours alone in the dance studio working on ideas. Then, her dancers will arrive, and she'll work with them.
She's not alone in her advice to develop a discipline. Many accomplished people have a variation on this. Steven Pressfield, in his The War of Art, is all about discipline. Popular motivational speakers are all about developing the habits that give us the mental space to do the work.
How Can You Move Past Your Fears?
First, recognize that pursuing your freelance writing dreams is up to you. No one can (or will) do it for you.
Here are five things to do to help you move forward in your dreams.
Make a big list of your skills. You know how LinkedIn asks about your skills and lets you put up to 50 on your profile? Go for at least 50. Skills can include knowing Excel, Adobe, Google Docs, all the way to leadership, and other less tangible qualities. (Check out the article, Are You a Newbie or an “Experienced Newbie?” by Ilise Benun for more skills assessment advice.)
Once you have a big list, circle the ones related to writing or running a business. For example, if you handled press releases or the monthly newsletter at your job, you could include those. You might find you have more than you think.
With this list in front of you, think about the ones you feel like you want to bone up on your skills. Short workshops or classes can be helpful. AWAI has many resources for building skills related to writing and digital marketing.
Building the Foundation
You can take one hour to beef up your LinkedIn profile or work on your freelance website in the next few days.
If it's been a while since you looked at your LinkedIn account, start there. Add relevant skills, update your work history, write a snappy "About" section that incorporates keywords potential clients might use to find you. For example, if you're a real estate writer, include freelance real estate writer. Use such keywords in your LinkedIn headline too. (Need help? Watch this Inside AWAI: How to Write a Professional LinkedIn Profile.)
If your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date, what about your freelancer website? Do you have one yet? Do you want to put yours up over the weekend? It doesn't need to be complicated. A simple homepage, About, Services, Samples, and Contact Form will get you started. (Need help, check out this useful resource: Build Your Freelance Website in Four Days.)
If you feel like a lack of samples is holding you back, discover How to Create a Winning Portfolio of Samples If You’re Just Starting a Freelance Writing Career (Even If You’ve Never Had Any Clients!).
Develop Your Processes
One day soon, when you're juggling deadlines, you'll be delighted you have some basic processes in place. These may include: a simple intake form (you can make one with Google Docs), Templates for proposals and invoices, Fee Schedule (even if your rate card is for your eyes only, it'll help you answer the question of what to charge for what). If you need help setting up your pricing, check out our Pricing Guide.
Some people think networking is a dirty word, but I prefer to think of it as having conversations. I'm not selling anything. I'm connecting with other people. Some of those people need freelance writers. Others don't, but they know people who do. I'm friendly and look for common ground. Ideally, when they do need a freelancer, they think of me. (For more information on networking and getting clients, watch this Inside AWAI: Top 10 Places to Find Freelance Writing Clients.)
Then there's the networking you can do with other freelancers. When you get to know a handful of freelancers, they can cheer you on and even refer clients your way. That leads to …
Freelance Support and Accountability
Other freelancers know what it's like to run a freelance writing business. They'll be happy for you when you land that great new client, and they'll commiserate with you when things aren't going your way.
Get to know a few well, and you may find yourself trading referrals and tips. You can find support and welcome in our Facebook community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AWAICopywritingInsiders/.
If nothing else, know you're not the first to feel self-doubt. You're in great company with accomplished people the world over. Take Twyla Tharp; at 80 years old, she's still committed to dancing every day. From that habit comes sparks of creativity.
You can do this too. Identify one area to develop and work on it every day for a month. Then choose another and so on. After three months, you'll have made great progress and will feel more confident!
If you have a minute, drop a comment below. Let us know what you'll spend time improving over the next month.
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Great piece, and timely, too. I spent this morning writing out the fears that are blocking me from moving forward in my creative writing projects. I realized a lot of them are fears of what would happen if I became very successful. Most of them are pretty ridiculous! So, over the next few months, I'm going to spend the first 10 minutes of my writing time journalling about my fears and mindset to help me move forward.
Guest (Rebekah Mays) –
I only wish to talk to somebody. A human voice is my strongest motivator. Typing endlessly gets me lost.
Guest (Maxime Pierre - Pierre) –
I just purchased the Virtual Business Building Intensive on Demand program and I am going to tackle it between now and the end of this year with the goal of getting my business up and running as quickly as possible in January.
Roy Mars –
There's a sixth fear I've experienced almost every time I've produced a piece my client has raved about. That's the fear I'll never again live up to the standard I've just set.
It has caused me to lose clients because it has caused me WRITER'S BLOCK! It even caused me to quit writing for clients for several years.
I'm back in the saddle, but still wonder if this fear will attack again.
I really just wanted to say thanks. In these days of fakeness, and great actors, even when they are alone in the bathroom the show goes on...and they are everywhere. Your article was a breath of fresh air reminding all of us, of what we have in common, no matter our discipline or art, we all have fears that block us. So thank you for your honesty and your truth and the great links. I will be favoriting and bookmarking this article and recommend others do the same. Thanks
Guest (Olivia) –
Very helpful. I realized many of my fears have to do with things not written. My computer skills are not as good as they should Be. It is the “new to me Word.” Excel skills. Power Point. Google tools. Etc etc etc. This is holding me back. I just had a moment. I can fix this too. So clarifying. Thank you.
Guest (Susan) –